On July 31 of 2019 at the second Democratic debate, the nation learned a little bit more about Andrew Yang. He stepped up to the plate and took a far bigger and better swing than he did his first time around. He was concise, direct, and stood out among his fellow candidates.
Terrell Jermaine Starr of The Root felt that he won the debate, and Charles Blow of the New York Times was more impressed by Yang than anyone else on the stage. Some writers, however, didn’t share the same admiration for Andrew’s performance, due to his answer on one topic in particular. Brian Kahn of Gizmodo and Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic both bemoaned the statements he made about climate change during the debate, and other outlets did the same.
In short, instead of talking about climate change mitigation — decarbonizing our energy to decrease global temperatures — Andrew took this time to give the nation a warning. He said that we are ten years too late. In addition to combating climate change, he said, we need to prepare for the worst, travel to locations safe from a rising tide and adjust to a changing world (Andrew has two policies that will support this adjustment, the Freedom Dividend and paying people to move).
He also noted that the US makes up only 15% of global carbon emissions, so that even if we get to zero and every other country remained the same, 85% of the problem would persist. He let America know that we need to adapt for what’s ahead of us, because we can’t completely stop what’s coming.
That is all Andrew had the opportunity to say on that stage about climate, and seemingly all that Meyer has ever heard from him. But here’s what he and those who only tuned into the debates didn’t hear: Andrew Yang has the best set of policies to combat climate change.
Along with renewable funding, there are three main pillars that make up Yang’s plan — a carbon tax, nuclear power subsidization, and geoengineering investment. Each pillar, in my opinion, is essential to averting climate catastrophe, and the absence of one makes environmental doom all the more likely. Andrew Yang is the only candidate currently running who unequivocally supports all three.
In January of this year, The Largest Public Statement of Economists in History was released in regards to the consensus surrounding a Carbon tax. Over 3000 economists from both the far left and right all agreed that the US needs to install a tax on carbon in order to cut down on its emission. Thankfully, Andrew isn’t alone in his support of a carbon tax. Pete Buttigieg, Jay Inslee, Joe Biden and many other candidates have supported some form of a carbon tax, but two big names have been noticeably silent on this matter.
Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have made no mention of a carbon tax either on their website or on the campaign trail. Judging from both their public statements and written plans, neither candidate would make people pay a price for emitting carbon. I hope this changes, but at the moment neither candidate will be your climate friend.
The case for Nuclear is crystal clear. Nuclear produces more than two times the energy per dollar than solar and wind combined, with a lower carbon footprint. Unfortunately, we just can’t make the sun shine more regularly or the wind blow more reliably. So no matter how good renewables get, this constraint keeps solar and wind from being able to operate cities by themselves anytime soon.
Take the cases of Germany and France. In 2016, Germany installed 4% more solar panels and 11% more wind turbines, but generated 3% less electricity from solar and 2% less electricity from wind. Germany just didn’t have a very sunny and windy year. While Germany has been the frontrunner on renewables for years, France has lead the charge globally on nuclear. German electricity is two times more expensive than electricity in France, yet French electricity is about two times cleaner than German electricity.
But what about Nuclear waste and radiation? Nuclear discharges from freak accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima account for 0.3% of ionising radiation exposure the world over. Almost all ionizing radiation we are exposed to comes from the earth and atmosphere. But even if you feared radiation so much that you refuse to fly and try to avoid all the radon gas on the ground, the Next Gen Thorium Reactors would still be no problem for you. They leak out no waste, and instead convert that waste into even more energy. These reactors are the true renewables.
The concern around Nuclear power is not environmental, I believe, but political and psychological. And unlike being afraid to fly, this unfounded fear is of serious consequence. Nuclear power is a litmus test to see whether someone will put the planet before their own biases.
While candidates like Cory Booker and Jay Inslee pass the test, Andrew Yang aces it. Yang is the only candidate to have a whole section on his website dedicated to nuclear power, and as usual, he looked at the math and came to the right conclusion: To get to zero net-emissions as a nation, we need nuclear now more than ever before.
The final and maybe most important piece of the climate puzzle is geoengineering. The term is vague and unhelpful, but geoengineering with respect to climate change merely refers to all the methods of capturing and storing carbon. Decreasing deforestation and planting more trees is geoengineering. In recent years, however, geoengineering has grown beyond the tree and into technology.
Although the science is in its infancy, companies like Carbon Engineering have successfully demonstrated their ability to directly capture and store carbon without collateral damage to the atmosphere or our environment. Other methods like adding iron or lime to our oceans, solar energy storage, or atmospheric light deflection require more research before they are safe to be deployed en mass. Andrew Yang is the only person running for President who supports funding geoengineering research and deployment.
It’s important to note here, however, that talk of curing climate change through technology need not undermine the will to cut emissions. There’s no reason why we can’t as a country lead the charge towards carbon-free energy, and lead the charge on geoengineering globally. With the right technological breakthroughs and government action, we may not even have to move to higher ground.
Mitigation and Adaptation
But is moving to higher ground, “not an adaptation policy”? Well, with reference to Andrew’s two policies that help facilitate this change — the Freedom Dividend, and paying people to move — neither policy is designed with climate change adaptation directly in mind. Nevertheless, they are both accidentally great adaptation policy. The only thing that stops people from being able to move is cash on hand, and these policies put more money in the bank for Americans who don’t need to move, and still more for those who do.
Also, in its own idiosyncratic way, the Freedom Dividend is a policy that could conceivably shrink our carbon footprint. Yang often tries to tie all social and political problems back to the lack of UBI, but in this case he actually makes an adept and often unappreciated point. Concerning yourself with climate change is a luxury for the financially secure. Rich people buy Teslas and solar panels, poor people don’t. Taking the economic boot off the throats of Americans, as Andrew often likes to put it, will open the American mind to the possibility of climate change and what they as individuals can do about it.
And while the American mind opens to climate science, nuclear fusion will get figured out and so will other methods of technologically constricting climate change. Carbon emitters will get financially punished, and in the meantime wind and solar will get an even bigger economic boom and make yet more progress as our eventual main energy sources. I like this picture of our future, and it seems quite achievable.
But if all goes wrong, none of this gets fully realized and the science is far too optimistic for what’s in front of us, Andrew will be the only candidate offering you any help. And if that doesn’t make Andrew Yang your climate friend, then nothing will.